Character Design – Heads (part 1)

We’ve began a new project in Tony’s class, where the end goal will be to create out own characters from start to finish. To begin with, we focused on understanding the structure of a human head; beginning with the shape of a skull and moving on to look at the muscles overtop, we were asked to think about how these attributes affect the overall look of a person.

By the end of the exercise, we’ll have looked at three different ways to construct the design of a head: observed, constructed (with shapes), and freeform. We’d end up mixing these elements to create our own unique design, something that is based in reality but takes our own artistic spin on it. Much like Manga is a representation of real life, we need to find our own style that will represent how we see a character.

While we didn’t focus on the first task in Tony’s slideshow, which was to sketch a skull, we did have to think about the features of a human skull that would effect the muscles, and thus the topography, of a human head. Things like the frontal bone, the cheek bones, the jaw, all of these will act as landmarks while coming up with our drawings.


It’s essential to understand what’s going on beneath the skin of our drawings, if only to understand how this will relate to games. Tony mentioned that, if we understand the structure of our drawing, then we’ll b able to better model characters. Looking at the picture below, it’s easier to see how the facial muscles can match the polygons on the model, and how those will stretch/squash while the character emotes or speaks.


Looking into écorché (a French word, “a painting or sculpture of a human figure with the skin removed to display the musculature”), it reminded me of when Marc and I went to see the Body Worlds exhibit at the Life Centre in Newcastle.

US-GERMANY-BODY WORLDS-SKULLSome people may find it macabre, but I find it fascinating. A German anatomist first came up with the idea of plastination – preserving the bodies of donated specimens using a reactive polymer and positioning them before allowing them time to harden.

The exhibit consisted of hundreds of bodies, showing various parts of human and animal anatomy, muscles, veins, etc. I can see why anyone who would want to be a character artist would find this sort of thing very useful for research into human anatomy, using real-life models displayed in écorché style. At the time, I wish I valued the display a little more from this angle, rather than simply morbid fascination!

Our task for the majority of the class was to find a photograph in which we could draw out the muscles of the model, using reference photos should we need. I used the following reference photo of a human’s facial muscle structure and then found a photo of one of my favourite actors, Nathan Fillion:

It took some time to outline the major muscle locations along his face, following his own facial structure rather than just emulating the picture. Since the reference isn’t smiling, but Nathan Fillion is, there would be more emphasis on certain muscles that were being stretched.

There is something oddly… disturbing about doing this to a celebrity! However, I think it turned out to be a fairly good map of muscle structure. In the end, it’s interesting to think about how, underneath whatever skin is on top, humans are anatomically the same (for the most part) and if I can understand the underlying structure, I can manage to accomplish the next part of this character design project: find some reference photos that can be used and observationally draw a page of heads using an emphasise on the distinguishing elements we’ve covered in this class.

This sounds simple enough, but I’m hesitant to guess how well my drawings will turn out. I don’t recall a time where I have tried to draw heads, therefore there might be a lot of drawing and redrawing before I get to enough to fill a page!


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